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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Successful plastics recycling takes collaboration, says CPIA

EcoLog, 2/22/2013 8:54:00 AM

The bold sub-headline in EcoLog News reporter David Nesseth’s article "Waste-to-energy-to-debate: A plastic future" published Jan. 25, 2013 (“…global plastic consumption has gone from 5.5 million tonnes in the 1950s to 110 million tonnes in 2009”) may seem astounding, but it simply reflects the history of commodity plastics from their beginning to present day.

Your readers may be interested to know that the growth in use of plastics is due primarily to plastics’ attributes. Plastics permit flexibility in design from cell phone housings to detergent bottles, are lightweight, which saves energy in shipping, and relatively unbreakable, reducing product loss. Plastic packaging is used to reduce food spoilage and increase shelf life for meats, vegetables and other supermarket items. In today’s hospitals and care facilities, plastics are indispensable for many procedures.

In addition, most of the plastics with which we are familiar are recyclable if they are recovered for recycling. It is not just the polyethylene and PET referred to by Candice Anderson which are recyclable. Polypropylene, used in dairy packaging is recyclable. So is polystyrene, in both foam and rigid form. Polyvinylchloride and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) used in construction are being recycled. Polycarbonate from auto parts is another example. To facilitate recycling it is necessary to recover the material.

The Canadian Plastics Industry Association and our members have always promoted recycling. There is growth in the recycling of plastics, which continues, and will increase as modern technology enters recovery operations. However, recycling cannot grow if materials are not made available. Industry can provide the technology to separate and reprocess materials, but it cannot force municipalities, and most importantly, the public, to participate in recycling programs. In Alberta the recovery rate for beverage bottles is over 85 per cent, but in Ontario the recovery rate is about 55 per cent. Why? Recycling requires the efforts of a multitude of stakeholders: municipalities or other bodies to launch collection programs, industry to reprocess materials, and most importantly, the participation of the public to divert recyclables from the waste stream to the recycling stream.

Markets are available for recycled plastics, although some of them are short-changed by lack of material. The advantages of using recycled material in terms of reduction in energy and greenhouse gas emissions are well known and have been quantified by means of rigorous life cycle analyses.

The study carried out by the University of Waterloo concentrates on the plastic material currently being landfilled. Much of the plastic in that mix is recyclable, but it is not being recovered. The main point of the exercise was to quantify the amount of recoverable energy going to waste.

Kind Regards,

Carol Hochu, MBA, CAE

President & CEO, Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA)


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